SATURDAY, 8:29am: Jordan tells Bonnell that his contract offer to Higgins was not technically a demotion, but that he did propose moving some of Higgins’ responsibilities over to Cho. Higgins viewed the arrangement as a practical demotion, and was given the choice of immediately stepping down or waiting until after the draft to do so, and he chose the latter.
“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that. One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams. Sometimes when teams would call [proposing trades], they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich… [That arrangement caused] confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
Jordan said that Cho will step into running basketball operations in place of Higgins, and that the Hornets will hire an assistant GM moving forward.
FRIDAY, 10:56am: Higgins turned down a new contract from the Hornets that would have kept him with the organization, a source tells Bonnell. It’s not clear whether the deal would have kept him as president of basketball ops or shifted him to a different role.
8:51am: Hornets president of basketball operations Rod Higgins has stepped down from his post, the team announced. The move puts GM Rich Cho exclusively in charge of the team’s player personnel. He’ll report to owner Michael Jordan and vice chairman Curtis Polk, who handles the team’s business affairs.
“I would like to thank Rod for his seven years of dedication to this organization,” Jordan said in the team’s statement. “Rod has been a consummate professional throughout his time with the team. Thanks to his hard work and commitment, we have an improved roster and we are poised for success in the future. Rod was of great help to me as I navigated my first four years as majority owner of this franchise. I wish him all the best.”
The announcement, which came shortly after midnight Charlotte time, is oddly timed, and not just because of the overnight hour. The draft is 13 days away, and free agency starts in less than three weeks. The Hornets hold the ninth, 24th and 45th picks in the draft, and they’re poised to be one of the most active teams on the free agent market, with only about $41MM in commitments, not counting their pair of first-rounders. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer called the timing of Higgins’ departure “bizarre” and took the Hornets to task for what he deems a “dysfunctional” move (Twitter links). Still, it’s unclear whether Higgins left entirely of his own volition or whether the team had any influence on his decision.
The amount of control Higgins asserted in the front office following the hiring of Cho in 2011 has also been difficult to ascertain. Higgins had held the GM title for the club prior to that move, having assumed that role in 2007, before Jordan bought the majority stake in the team. Still, Higgins was one of the team’s first hires after Jordan purchased a minority share in 2006, having worked under Jordan when he owned part of the Wizards and having been a teammate of Jordan’s on the Bulls. Higgins played a key role in the signing of Al Jefferson last summer, Bonnell writes.
Cho is familiar with oddly timed front office changes from his time in Portland. He became Blazers GM in July 2010, replacing Kevin Pritchard, whom the team had fired on draft night that year. Portland dismissed Cho less than a year later, in May 2011.